It has come down to a turf war (literally)

Inside Politics: Will it be a two-year government or a two-month fiasco?

Michael Fitzmaurice, a former chair of the Turf-Cutters’ Association, has outstanding issues and was arguing against the tide of EU habitats directives on turf-cutting. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

Michael Fitzmaurice, a former chair of the Turf-Cutters’ Association, has outstanding issues and was arguing against the tide of EU habitats directives on turf-cutting. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times


Is it going to happen today, finally? The vote for the nomination of taoiseach (the fourth vote) is scheduled for 12pm.

Will it finally happen? Well the short answer is yes, although it might not quite happen at noon, but a little later in the day.

Talks broke up in the early hours of this morning with no final agreement reached. Talks have resumed this morning.

Two members of the Independent Alliance, Michael Fitzmaurice and Sean Canney, still had outstanding issues. Canney’s issue relates to infrastructure (in the West) while Fitzmaurice, a former chair of the Turf-Cutters’ Association, was arguing against the tide of EU habitats directives on turf-cutting.

We can take it Shane Ross and Fine Gael came to an agreement over judicial appointments, his sticking point.

As for the Rural Alliance, the picture is more complicated. Both Denis Naughten and Michael Harty are believed to have committed to supporting Kenny.

The other three members of that (very loose) alliance were wandering around Leinster House with the urgency and anxiety of the Kerry football team’s defence when Dublin upped the gears in the league final.

Noel Grealish, Mattie McGrath and Michael Collins were rattled and annoyed by the take-it-or-leave it ultimatum delivered by Enda Kenny on Thursday, that the vote would go ahead today at noon, irrespective of their support.

The high-visibility angst suggests this: at least two of that threesome will not support Kenny.

Michael Healy-Rae was uncharacteristically staying schtum yesterday, leading to speculation he might support Kenny’s nomination.

As of now, despite the issues, it still looks like all six members of the Independent Alliance will support Kenny.

Michael Fitzmaurice was on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland this morning, saying his issue on turf-cutting was not resolved. He also said he was a realist and was not going to stand in the way of anybody.

“Let’s not jump up the stairs too far,” was his gnomic take on it.

If they are in, you can add Katherine Zappone, Denis Naughten, Michael Harty and Michael Lowry (even though Lowry’s support is unsolicited). Throw in Michael Healy-Rae and (less likely) Noel Grealish.

That’s 61 or 62. It’s a bare majority, but operable. And the likes of the Greens and (perhaps Labour) can row in from time to time to bolster up the numbers when there are waverers.

Here is the latest report from political editor Stephen Collins and political reporter Sarah Bardon.

A two-year government or a two-month fiasco?

Political reporters are more visceral in their judgements than anybody else. One of the things we are called upon to do is to predict what is going to happen. We are lousy at it but cloak our ignorance with a high degree of self-confidence and basso profound voices (and nobody bothers to check back anymore).

The first question is how long this government will last? It is obvious that the numbers are marginal and even one or two defections could put paid to it.

The obvious comparison is a Fine Gael-led government in the early 1980s that fell when Independent socialist Jim Kemmy pulled his support over a budget.

The recent tortuous negotiations and agreements with Fianna Fáil and the Independents were designed to avoid such a roller-coaster ride. Indeed if you look at the proposed 160-page programme for government (Fiach Kelly was the first to get the full document online last night) you will see that Independents who become part of government will be locked-in to the notion of collective responsibility (and that becomes collective support).

Fine Gael people I spoke to yesterday were very pessimistic about how long the government would last. I don’t necessarily share their views. The experience of minority governments has been generally positive with many going on to improve their support in subsequent elections.

The Scottish precedent with the Scottish Nationalist Party in 2007 put paid to that.

I am not saying it will last three years, but I am saying it is going to last more than two months.

I wouldn’t necessarily subscribe to the view either that Enda Kenny will be a goner in short order. He will not lead Fine Gael into the next election, but he could continue for a year or more before stepping down.

As for the ministerial appointments, there will be at least three Independents as full members of cabinet (Shane Ross, Denis Naughten and Katherine Zappone) with Finian McGrath getting the super junior job, in disability.

If Paschal Donohoe is given public expenditure and reform, Simon Coveney may be asked to become the minister for housing (the old Department of Environment) or indeed the new minister for climate change (in charge of an enlarged department including energy and natural resources).

There is a lot of talk of Leo Varadkar being moved from health. I don’t see the rationale behind it. He has been there for less than two years and has yet to make a substantial mark. I have a speculation piece on ministerial appointments here.